Category Archives: Open Access

Where Are the Open Humanities Textbooks?

Textbooks on the ShelvesTake a look at this list of free and open textbooks. (Found this page a couple of clicks away from a helpful post at Peter Suber’s Open Access News.) Now note the stark imbalance between the number of science textbooks listed here and the number of humanities textbooks. Why is this?

It seems to me like there is a great opportunity here for funders, with potentially an incredible return on investment. Texas alone spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on textbooks like the U.S. History survey. For less than a million dollars a high-quality free and open textbook could be produced, with print on demand producing paper copies where needed and with a slight markup on those printed versions possibly covering ongoing expenses for updating the work.

[More on open source textbooks from Inside Higher Ed today.]

[Creative Commons image credit.]

Digital Campus #22 – Demanding Print on Demand?

This week on the podcast we look at the merits of print on demand, and investigate whether it can have an impact on academia. The podcast includes a wide-ranging interview with Yakov Shafranovich, a software developer who specializes in print on demand services including PublicDomainReprints.org, covered in several prior Digital Campus episodes. We also debate the importance of Harvard’s move toward open access to its faculty’s scholarship.

A Quartet of Open Access Arguments

On the day that Harvard’s faculty votes on a strong open access proposal (I’m still looking for the actual text of the proposal; please add a link in the comments if you are aware of it), here are a few of the better arguments this week about the open access movement:

Digital Campus #20 – Open to Change

Are open educational resources such as iTunes U and thought-provoking dot-coms such as BigThink.com a distraction from the mission of professors and universities, or the wave of the future? We debate the merits of “open access” intellectual content in the feature story on our twentieth Digital Campus podcast. Also, I report on the mostly good (if a little odd) experience of buying a book from PublicDomainReprints.org, and we discuss the MacBook Air, Flickr Commons, and a variety of tools for manipulating RSS feeds.

The Case for Open Access Books

Open BookThis month’s First Monday has one of the most pragmatic, sensible articles I’ve read about the promise and perils of open access books. In “Open access book publishing in writing studies: A case study,” by Charles Bazerman, David Blakesley, Mike Palmquist, and David Russell, the authors describe their experience deciding to eschew a traditional publication arrangement with an academic press (what supposedly gives our monographs the sheen of value and gets us tenure). Instead they publish an edited volume straight to the web.

Along the way the authors discover that many of the concerns that humanities scholars have about publishing in a free and open way are either overblown or simply myths. Only one junior scholar (out of the 20 scholars asked to contribute) worries about promotion and tenure. And indeed all of the scholars who contribute to the edited volume receive credit for their chapters. More important, the editors and contributors are surprised to discover that the book makes its way rapidly and powerfully into the consciousness of their field:

[The] initial reaction [to the book] did not prepare us for the acceptance the book ultimately received from the academic communities to which it was addressed.

Since its publication, the Writing Selves/Writing Societies Web page has been visited more than 85,000 times by more than 36,000 unique visitors. The trend, interestingly, has been a steady increase in visits over the past four years, with more than 30,000 occurring in the past 12 months. Since its publication, the book has been downloaded in its entirety more than 36,000 times. Individual essays have been downloaded more than 108,000 times. In terms of perceived quality of the scholarly work in the collection, the book has been well received by the field. Within six months of publication, the book was positively reviewed by four journals: two print and two electronic. One year after its publication, in the keynote address to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the major annual conference in writing studies, Kathleen Blake Yancey quoted extensively from chapters in the book. And the book has continued to figure prominently in scholarly work subsequently published in the field of composition and rhetoric.

According to a search of Google Scholar, which indexes scholarly publications available on the Web (29 September 2006), the book or individual chapters in it has been cited 68 times, according to a search of Google Scholar. Although we do not have comprehensive comparison data for print publications, we suspect that this is a higher rate. A print–only collection with about the same number of chapters (15) published in the same year as Writing Selves/Writing Societies (and winner of a best book award given by a leading journal in the field), had far fewer citations: 10. Our experience suggests that open access scholarly books follow a pattern of citation similar to journals, which indicate that open access journal articles in a wide range of fields are both more likely to be cited and likely to be cited more quickly. Our experience with Writing Selves/Writing Societies supports this…

Overall, Writing Selves/Writing Societies appears to have entered into the system of book publishing neatly, in spite of the fact that it was not published by a traditional academic publisher and was being offered at no charge.

Beyond the questions of business models, scholarly influence, and promotion and tenure, there is also the nagging question Roy Rosenzweig posed in “Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?” At the time Roy was the Vice President for Research at the American Historical Association, and was pushing for open access to the American Historical Review. (Ultimately he got the powers that be to agree to put AHR articles online for free, although the book reviews remain behind gates.)

Besides the ethical good of publishing in an open access model—sharing educational and scholarly materials—Roy noted that the work of most scholars is funded, directly or indirectly, by the public. Noting the National Institutes of Health‘s recent mandate that grantees share their work openly with the public, Roy wrote:

The new policy affects few historians, but its implications ought to give us serious pause. After all, historical research also benefits directly (albeit considerably less generously) through grants from federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities; even more of us are on the payroll of state universities, where research support makes it possible for us to write our books and articles. If we extend the notion of “public funding” to private universities and foundations (who are, of course, major beneficiaries of the federal tax codes), it can be argued that public support underwrites almost all historical scholarship.

Do the fruits of this publicly supported scholarship belong to the public? Should the public have free access to it?

Roy, of course, thought this meant that like NIH grantees we should provide open access to our articles, such as those in the AHR. But doesn’t the same argument hold true for books?

[Postscript: Some scientists have been wondering the same thing.]

[Image credit]

MacEachern and Turkel, The Programming Historian

Bill Turkel, the always creative mind behind Digital History Hacks (logrolling disclosure: Bill is a friend of CHNM, a collaborator on various fronts, and was the thought-provoking guest on Digital Campus #9; still, he deserves the compliments), and his colleague at the University of Western Ontario, Alan MacEachern, are planning to write a book entitled The Programming Historian. Better yet, the book will be open access and hosted on the Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE) site. Bill’s summary of the book on his blog sounds terrific. Can’t wait to read it and use it in my classes.

Two Misconceptions about the Zotero-IA Alliance

Thanks to everyone for their helpful (and thankfully, mostly positive) feedback on the new Zotero-IA alliance. I wanted to try to clear up a couple of things that the press coverage and my own writing failed to communicate. (Note to self: finally get around to going to one of those media training courses so I can learn how to communicate all of the elements of a complex project well in three minutes, rather than lapsing into my natural academic long-windedness.)

1. Zotero + IA is not simply the Zotero Commons

Again, this is probably my fault for not communicating the breadth of the project better. The press has focused on items #1 and 2 in my original post—they are the easiest to explain—but while the project does indeed try to aggregate scholarly resources, it is also trying to solve another major problem with contemporary scholarship: scholars are increasingly using and citing web resources but have no easy way to point to stable URLs and cached web pages. In particular, I encourage everyone to read item #3 in my original post again, since I consider it extremely important to the project.

Items #4 and 5 also note that we are going to leverage IA for better collaboration, discovery, and recommendation systems. So yes, the Commons, but much more too.

2. Zotero + IA is not intended to put institutional repositories out of business, nor are they excluded from participation

There has been some hand-wringing in the library blogosphere this week (see, e.g., Library 2.0) that this project makes an end-run around institutional repositories. These worries were probably exacerbated by the initial press coverage that spoke of “bypassing” the libraries. However, I want to emphasize that this project does not make IA the exclusive back end for contributions. Indeed, I am aware of several libraries that are already experimenting with using Zotero as an input device for institutional repositories. There is already an API for the Zotero client that libraries can extract data and files from, and the server will have an even more powerful API so that libraries can (with their users’ permission, of course) save materials into an archive of their own.

Zotero and the Internet Archive Join Forces

IA LogoZotero LogoI’m pleased to announce a major alliance between the Zotero project at the Center for History and New Media and the Internet Archive. It’s really a match made in heaven—a project to provide free and open source software and services for scholars joining together with the leading open library. The vision and support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has made this possible, as they have made possible the major expansion of the Zotero project over the last year.

You will hear much more about this alliance in the coming months on this blog, but I wanted to outline five key elements of the project.

1. Exposing and Sharing the “Hidden Archive”

The Zotero-IA alliance will create a “Zotero Commons” into which scholarly materials can be added simply via the Zotero client. Almost every scholar and researcher has documents that they have scanned (some of which are in the public domain), finding aids they have created, or bibliographies on topics of interest. Currently there is no easy way to share these; giving them a central home at the Internet Archive will archive them permanently (before they are lost on personal hard drives) and make them broadly available to others.

We understand that not everyone will be willing to share everything (some may not be willing to share anything, even though almost every university commencement reminds graduates that they are joining a “community of scholars”), but we believe that the Commons will provide a good place for shareable materials to reside. The architectural historian with hundreds of photographs of buildings, the researcher who has scanned in old newspapers, and scholars who wish to publish materials in an open access environment will find this a helpful addition to Zotero and the Internet Archive. Some researchers may of course deposit materials only after finishing, say, a book project; what I have called “secondary scholarly materials” (e.g., bibliographies) will perhaps be more readily shared.

But we hope the second part of the project will further entice scholars to contribute important research materials to the Commons.

2. Searching the Personal Library

Most scholars have not yet figured out how to take full advantage of the digitized riches suddenly available on their computers. Indeed, the abundance of digital documents has actually exacerbated the problems of some researchers, who now find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of available material. Moreover, the major advantage of digital research—the ability to scan large masses of text quickly—is often unavailable to scholars who have done their own scanning or copying of texts.

A critical second part to this alliance of IA and Zotero is to bring robust and seamless Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to the vast majority of scholars who lack the means or do not know how to convert their scans into searchable text. In addition, this process will let others search through such newly digitized texts. After a submission to the Commons, the Internet Archive will subsequently return an OCRed version of each donated document to enable searchability. This text will be incorporated into the donor’s local index (on the Zotero client) and thus made searchable in Zotero’s powerful quick search and advanced search panes. In short, this process will provide a tremendous incentive for scholars to donate to the Commons, since it will help them with their own research.

3. Enabling Networked References and Annotations

One of the pillars of scholarship is the ability for distributed scholars to be sure they are referencing the same text or evidence. As noted in #1, one of the great advantages of the Zotero Commons at IA will be the transport of scholarly materials currently residing on personal hard drives to a public space with stable, rather than local, addresses. These addresses will become critical as scholars begin to use, refer to, and cite items in the Commons.

Yet the IA/Zotero partnership has another benefit: as scholars begin to use not only traditional primary sources that have been digitized but also “born digital” materials on the web (blogs, online essays, documents transcribed into HTML), the possibility arises for Zotero users to leverage the resources of IA to ensure a more reliable form of scholarly communication. One of the Internet Archive’s great strengths is that it has not only archived the web but also given each page a permanent URI that includes a time and date stamp in addition to the URL.

Currently when a scholar using Zotero wishes to save a web page for their research they simply store a local copy. For some, perhaps many, purposes this is fine. But for web documents that a scholar believes will be important to share, cite, or collaboratively annotate (e.g., among a group of coauthors of an article or book) we will provide a second option in the Zotero web save function to grab a permanent copy and URI from IA’s web archive. A scholar who shares this item in their library can then be sure that all others who choose to use it will be referring to the exact same document.

Moreover, unlike most research software the sophisticated annotation tools built into Zotero—the ability to highlight passages, add virtual Post-It notes, as well as regular notes on the overall document—maintain these annotations separately from the underlying document. This presents the exciting possibility for collaborative scholarly annotation of web pages.

4. Simplifying Collaborative Sharing

Groups of scholars also have the need to create more private “commons,” e.g., for documents that they would like to share in a limited way. In addition to the fully open Zotero Commons we will establish a mechanism for such restricted sharing. Via the Zotero Server, a user will be able to create a special collection with a distinct icon that shows up in the client interface (left column) for every member of the group.

Files added to these collections will be stored on the Internet Archive but will have restricted access. We believe that having these files reside on the IA server will encourage the donation of documents at the end of a collaborative project. The administrator of a shared collection will be able to move its contents into the fully open Zotero Commons via a single click in the administrative interface on the Zotero Server.

5. Facilitating Scholarly Discovery

The multiple libraries of content created by Zotero users and the multi-petabyte digital collections of the Internet Archive are resources that can potentially be of great use to the scholarly community. We believe that neither has experienced the level of exploration and usage we believe is possible through further development and collaboration.

The combined digital collections present opportunities for scholars to find primary research materials, to discover one another’s work, to identify materials that are already available in digital form and therefore do not need to be located and scanned, to find other scholars with similar interests and to share their own insights broadly. We plan to leverage the combined strengths of the Zotero project and the Internet Archive to work on better discovery tools.